What Was the Lord Doing on Wednesday of Holy Week?

Two momentous days have passed: On Monday there was the cleansing of the Temple and the laments over Jerusalem’s lack of faith; Tuesday featured exhaustive teachings by Jesus and interrogations by His opponents.

Today, Wednesday, it would seem that Jesus stays in Bethany. According to Matthew’s Gospel, the day begins with an ominous warning:

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Matthew 26:1-2).

The scene then shifts across the Kidron valley, where we “overhear” this conversation:

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:3-5).

It is interesting that they say, “not during the festival,” because according to the Synoptic Gospels that is exactly when it ended up happening. This serves as a reminder that things unfold according to the Lord’s authority. Nothing is out of His control. No one takes the Jesus’ life; He lays it down freely. Even if one considers the Johannine tradition, which uses a different Jewish calendar to date the Passover (one day later), this all takes place right in the thick of the Passover. Why? Because the Lord is fulfilling Passover. The priests and elders can plan all they want, but God is in control.

The Lord Jesus and the Twelve likely spent a quiet sort of day and it is now later in the afternoon. Matthew’s Gospel places Jesus in Bethany, at the home of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6-7). According to Luke (7:36), Simon was a Pharisee. His leprosy was in remission and he had been readmitted to the community. Could he have been one of the lepers Jesus cured? We do not know. The story here is complex; there are significant differences among the various Gospel accounts. Matthew records it as follows:

A woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matthew 26:7-13).

The act of anointing Jesus may have happened more than once; in the four accounts of it there are differences in both the details and the timeframes.

Luke presents this story (or a similar one) much earlier in his Gospel (Chapter 7). In his account it is Jesus’ feet not His head that are anointed. Further, Luke portrays Simon in a bad light.

Mark and Matthew place the incident on Wednesday of Holy Week, but report that it is those at the dinner (likely the apostles) who take offense at the anointing.

John’s Gospel places this event six days before Passover, but at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. In John’s account it is Mary who anoints the Lord (His feet, not His head) and Judas alone who takes offense.

For our purposes on this Wednesday of Holy Week, it is enough to note that Jesus sets the meaning of this woman’s action as anointing His body for burial. Jesus is clearly moved by her act of devotion and insight.

Jesus does not slight the poor in His response, but He teaches that the worship of God and obedience to His truth are higher goods than even the care of the poor. Serving the poor is not to be set in opposition to serving God. They are related, but God always comes first. For example, one cannot skip sacred worship on Sunday simply to serve the poor (except in a grave and urgent situation); serving the poor is not a substitute for worship. The worship of God comes first and is meant to fuel our charitable and just works. Further, set in the light of the looming passion, the dying One takes precedence over the poor ones.

One of the Twelve, Judas, has become increasingly disaffected. He has not been featured prominently among the Twelve; mention of him in the Gospels is minimal. Now he emerges, as if from the shadows, to betray Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all seem to place Judas’ plans to betray Jesus as set into motion at some point on this day. The Gospel of Matthew recounts,

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over (Matt 26:14-16).

Why did he do it? There were storm clouds gathering for Judas, by which he may have opened the door to Satan. Scripture reveals that he was a thief, stealing from the common money bag (Jn 12:6). Jesus also hints that Judas was grieved by the Bread of Life discourse, which led many to abandon Jesus when He insisted that they must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood. Jesus said, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot … (Jn 6:70-71).

We can only guess at Judas’ motivations. The most likely explanation is that he was disillusion when Jesus did not measure up to the common Jewish conception of the Messiah as a revolutionary warrior who would overthrow Roman power and reestablish the Kingdom of David. Judas may have been a member of the Zealot Party or at least influenced by them in this regard. Zealots are seldom interested in hearing of their own need for personal healing and repentance, let alone the call to love their enemies. This is obviously only speculative; Judas’ motivations remain to a large degree shrouded in the mystery of iniquity.

Yes, Judas betrayed Jesus for money—a significant amount—but compared to his salvation and his soul, it was but “a mess of pottage for his birthright” (see Gen 25:34). What will it profit a man that he should gain the whole world and lose his soul? (Mk 8:36)

The widespread belief that Judas might be in Heaven may be just a tad optimistic. The Church does not declare that any particular person is in Hell, however Jesus said the following about Judas: The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born. (Matt 26:24). It is hard to imagine Jesus saying this of any human person who ultimately makes it to Heaven.

The more likely biblical judgment on Judas is that he died in sin, despairing of God’s mercy on His terms. One is free to hope for a different outcome for Judas, but while the story of Judas and his possible repentance does generate some sympathy in many people today, the judgment belongs to God.

It is the saddest story never told: The repentance of Judas and his restoration by Jesus. Think of all the churches that were never built: “The Church of St. Judas, Penitent.” Think of the feast day never celebrated: “The Repentance of Judas.”

Judas goes his way, freely. God did not force him to play this role. He only knew what Judas would do beforehand and based His plans on Judas’ free choice.

Thus ends this Wednesday of Holy Week. It was a calmer day, a day spent among friends, yet a day on which Satan entered one man, who set a betrayal in motion. The storm clouds gather.

What Was the Lord Doing on Tuesday of Holy Week?

It is Tuesday of Holy Week. Jesus likely arises early, as did all the ancients. Days both ended and started early, at dusk and dawn, prior to the advent of electric lighting. They leave Bethany and head back to Jerusalem. Perhaps a few converts can be made before the transcendent events of the Passion begin.

It is only a couple of miles, mostly downhill, to Jerusalem. As they come down the steep hill they see the fig tree Jesus had cursed the day before.

As they were walking back in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from its roots. Peter remembered it and said, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree You cursed has withered.” (Mk 11:20-21).

Jesus had cursed the fig tree, a metaphor for the ancient chosen people, for lack of faith, justice, and charity, the expected fruits in its branches. (This was discussed in more detail in yesterday’s post.) The fig tree reminds us of the day of judgment. “Lip service” faith is easy, but Jesus is looking for real fruit in the branches.

The apostolic band walks on further with Jesus, and they eventually arrive at the Temple, where they are immediately confronted by the Temple leaders:

At their return to Jerusalem, Jesus was walking in the temple courts, and the chief priests, scribes, and elders came up to Him. “By what authority are You doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave You the authority to do them?” “I will ask you one question,” Jesus replied, “and if you answer Me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me!” They deliberated among themselves what they should answer: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will ask, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’…” they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John truly was a prophet. So they answered Him, “We do not know. And Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Mk 11:27-33).

Jesus questions their question with a question. He seems to engage in the Socratic method, making them examine their premises. In this dialogue the leaders are confronted with their own insincerity. They are asked to consider that their own “authority” is based not on truth, but on power and its trappings. They are asked to consider that they have “too much to lose” because they root their authority in the power and accolades of the people. They are not true leaders, for they do not seek the truth but rather only what confirms their power.

Do not scorn or laugh at them—many of us are in the same condition.

Jesus turns to them and others in the Temple area, teaching them in numerous parables (Mk 12:1). In these parables He lays bare their hearts and reminds them that although they are leaders they are refusing God’s offer of salvation and His invitation to the true feast to which their rituals point.

Jesus begins,

But what do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went. Then the man went to the second son and told him the same thing. ‘I will, sir,’ he said. But he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in a righteous way and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him (Mat 21:28-32).

Lip service is not obedience. Their refusal to come to faith is disobedience to God. He desires obedience more than ritual observances and sacrifices (see Psalm 40:6).

Jesus warns them that their plots to kill Him will end badly:

A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a wine vat, and built a watchtower. Then he rented it out to some tenants and went away on a journey. At harvest time, he sent a servant to the tenants to collect his share of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized the servant, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent them another servant, and they struck him over the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and this one they killed. He sent many others; some they beat and others they killed. Finally, having one beloved son, he sent him to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized the son, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you never read this Scripture: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:1-11)

At this, the leaders sought to arrest Jesus, for they knew that He had spoken this parable against them. Fearing the crowd, though, they left Him and went away (Mk 12:1-12). They will return shortly with other interrogators.

Matthew records that Jesus then told the following parable, likely to others in the Temple area. In it, He warns them of the urgency of the dramatic decision that is upon them. Do they want salvation in the way God offers? Do they desire the Kingdom of God and its values or do they prefer the present but passing desires of the world? Are they willing to be clothed in the garments of righteousness that God himself provides or do they prefer to wear the fashions of the world?

Once again, Jesus spoke to them in parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to call those he had invited to the banquet, but they refused to come. Again, he sent other servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner. My oxen and fatlings have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ But they paid no attention and went away, one to his field, and another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops to destroy those murderers and burn their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the crossroads and invite to the banquet as many as you can find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered everyone they could find, both evil and good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he spotted a man who was not dressed in wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ But the man was speechless. Then the king told the servants, ‘Tie him hand and foot and throw him outside into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt 22:1-14).

Now come various interlocutors. Note that the Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees agreed on nothing but that Jesus had to go. They “teamed up” against the Lord! This indicates the depth of their fear: even enemies will be embraced to rid the city of this upstart preacher who so threatens their shared power.

Later, they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to catch Jesus in His words. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are honest and are swayed by no one. Indeed, You are impartial and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Now then, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or not?” But Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to inspect.” So, they brought it, and He asked them, “Whose likeness is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they answered. Then Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And they marveled at Him (Mk 12:13-17).

This is an attempt to draw Jesus into a cheap political debate and thereby cause division among His admiring crowd. Their concern about taxes is insincere because even those who dispute paying taxes to Caesar walk about with Caesar’s money. Jesus will not be called off message; He says to them, [Give] to God what is God’s.” In this case what they are to give to God is faith in the one whom He has sent, Jesus.

The next opponents of Jesus are the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection of the dead and seek to ridicule belief in Heaven through a complex and unlikely scenario:

Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came and questioned Him: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man should marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died, leaving no children. Then the second one married the widow, but he also died and left no children. And the third did likewise. In this way, none of the seven left any children. And last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? For all seven were married to her.” Jesus said to them, “Aren’t you mistaken because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like the angels in heaven. And regarding the dead rising, have you not read about the burning bush in the book of Moses, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken (Mk 12:18-27).

Yes, they are badly mistaken; they seek to understand heavenly realities using earthly notions. Because the Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament, Jesus uses a passage from Exodus as well as their own logic against them. The Sadducees denied the resurrection by saying that God is a God of the living, not the dead. If that be so, though, why does the Lord call himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom have been dead for over four centuries? They must be alive to God! In this way, the Sadducees are set aside.

Finally, a scribe steps forth. Although he is likely seeking to refute Jesus, the conversation ends up being promising:

Now one of the scribes had come up and heard their debate. Noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your and and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” “Right, Teacher,” the scribe replied. “You have stated correctly that God is One and there is no other but Him, and to love Him with all your heart and with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, which is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely, He said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk 12:28-34).

Speaking to His claim to be Messiah and Lord, Jesus invokes the authority of Scripture, reminding them that in Psalm 110 (a messianic psalm) the Messiah is called “Lord,” not merely the Son of David.

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, He asked, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? Speaking by the Holy Spirit, David himself declared: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.”’ David himself calls Him Lord. So how can He be David’s son?” And the large crowd listened to Him with delight (Mk 12:35-37).

Matthew records Jesus delivering a series of woes directed against the leaders and teachers of that time. These are delivered in a lengthy passage, which is available here: Seven woes. It is quite severe and shows a strong indictment of those who “major in the minors,” who maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum. Jesus concludes by saying,

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore, I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matthew 23:33-39).

To emphasize the contrast, Jesus notes a poor widow who gives a small amount but in reality far more generously than do those “leaders” with hardened hearts. Matthew then observes,

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:1-2).

They crossed the Kidron Valley and went up on to the Mount of Olives. Matthew records,

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24: 3-4)

Sitting atop the Mount of Olives, with Jerusalem displayed before Him, Jesus gives the terrifying and yet exhilarating “Mount Olivet Discourse.” It is quite lengthy and is available here: Mt. Olivet Discourse. In it, Jesus describes the coming destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in 70 A.D., forty biblical years after His Ascension. The destruction was the result of a foolish war with the Romans. Had the Jewish zealots accepted Jesus’ call to preach the gospel to the nations, the Romans would have been seen as brothers to convert rather than as enemies to kill. Over a million Jewish people died in that terrible war.

According to Matthew, Jesus also tells the “Parable of the Sheep and Goats” and the “Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.” Mark concludes with this: And no one dared to question Him any further (Mk 18:34).

It seems it was back to Bethany that Tuesday night, likely to stay at the house of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, but perhaps with Simon the Leper. It has been a long day of parables and teaching and of engaging with hostile opponents.

Tune in tomorrow, when it is “Spy Wednesday.”

 

What Was the Lord Doing on Monday of Holy Week?

According to Matthew 21:10-17, Mark 11:15-17, and Luke 19:45-46, Jesus returns to Jerusalem today. Seeing shameful practices in the Temple area, He cleanses it. The Gospels also recount His weeping over Jerusalem and His cursing of the fig tree. Matthew and Mark relate that He returned to Bethany that night.

Prelude: The Scriptures record that Jesus went to Bethany on the Sunday evening after His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday):

[Jesus] went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the Twelve (Mk 11:11).

It is likely that Jesus stayed at the house of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Bethany was a mere two miles from Jerusalem (though a steep climb), just over the Mount of Olives.

Pain: The next morning (Monday) Jesus arises and goes back toward Jerusalem. Luke records that as He came over the crest of the hill on the Mount of Olives He wept:

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If only you had known on this day what would bring you peace! But now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will barricade you and surround you and hem you in on every side. They will level you to the ground—you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Lk 19:41-44).

Today on this spot there is a chapel named Dominus Flevit (the Lord wept), which is in the shape of a teardrop. From here Jesus could see the whole city spread out below. He could also see forty years into the future to the time when the Romans would destroy the city and Temple, the culmination of a horrible and pointless war (64-70 A.D.) for liberation from the Romans. Had Jesus’ message been heeded, the Romans would not have been regarded as enemies to kill but rather as brothers to convert to the gospel.

Passionate Anger: Mark recalls an event as they come down the hillside:

The next day, when they had left Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if there was any fruit on it. But when He reached it, He found nothing on it except leaves, since it was not the season for figs. Then He said to the tree, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again.” And His disciples heard this statement (Mk 11:12-14).

The fig tree is widely interpreted as representing the Jewish people. The Lord looked for fruits among His chosen people but found none. Jesus’ rebuke of the tree illustrates His righteous anger at and disappointment in their lack of the fruits of faith. Scripture says elsewhere,

And the men of Judah are [the Lord’s] pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, the outcry! (Is 5:6-7)

And Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’” (Luke 13:6-9).

Seeing no fruit in this last hour, Jesus in effect finishes the parable. The hour of judgment has come upon ancient Judah.

Many misunderstand the phrase that it was “not the season for figs,” falsely concluding that it was thus “unfair” to expect figs on the branches. However, it is for this very reason that one would expect to find figs growing in the branches, for if it were the harvest one would expect bare branches as the figs would have just been harvested. It is before the harvest that one expects to find figs, even if not fully ripe, growing in the branches. Seeing nothing but leaves, Jesus curses the tree.

Pivotal Event: The cleansing of the Temple was indeed a pivotal event. Here is Mark’s account:

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching (Mk 11:15-18).

The Lord’s grief and anger grow worse as He enters the Temple. What made him so angry? Mark’s Gospel states the reason most clearly: It is not the selling of animals (which were needed for the sacrifices) per se, but that they were being sold in a part of the Temple grounds reserved for the Gentiles to pray. This is an insult and amounts to a denial that the prayers of the Gentiles mattered at all. Jesus was about to die in order to reunite God’s scattered children. And I, when I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all people unto me (Jn 12:32).

As for the Temple being a den of robbers, the implication is that the dealings there are unjust and exploitative.

Why is this a pivotal moment? The action of Jesus is a prophetic judgment made in the very center of the Temple leaders’ power. The Temple was the locus of their power and prestige. It is not lost on them for a moment that Jesus has threatened all of this, not merely by what He has said but by his popularity among the people.

According to John’s Gospel (which actually remarks on this earlier in Jesus’ ministry), when the Temple leaders demanded a sign and an explanation for this action Jesus said,

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” “This temple took forty-six years to build,” the Jews replied, “and You are going to raise it up in three days?” But Jesus was speaking about the temple of His Body (Jn 2:19-21).

This had a further impact on the Temple leaders, who would later accuse Jesus (at His trial) of threatening to destroy the temple (e.g., Mk 14:58).

Theologically, Jesus is saying that Temple worship is over. He is the temple. He is the priest. He is the lamb. It is His blood that will cleanse us. Temple worship is ended because what it pointed to (Jesus) is now here. Its purpose is fulfilled in Him.

Quite a day, this Monday of Holy Week! Can you sense the grief and anger of the Lord? Remember, His anger is a righteous one. Everything was being fulfilled for the ancient people, but many are rejecting the very one God has sent to save them. Jesus cannot remain indifferent to their tragic rejection. He both weeps and has a grieving anger.

Do we weep for the condition of our world? Do we pray and seek to call forth the fruits of faith, justice, and truth?

Jesus does not give up. He will spend the next day teaching and seeking to win as many as possible to the truth of the gospel.

The Scriptures conclude Monday of Holy Week in this way:

And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night (Matt 21:17).

Perhaps Jesus is consoled in His grief and anger by the presence of friends like Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Perhaps He finds solace in the company of His apostles and others. Scripture says,

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter:
he that has found one has found a treasure.
There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend,
and no scales can measure his excellence.
A faithful friend is a medicine of life;
and those who fear the Lord will find him
(Sirach 6:14-16).

Stay close to the heart of the Lord. Be His “consolation.” Be the reparation for the rejection by so many others.

 

See What the End Shall Be – A Homily for Palm Sunday

The Passion, which we read in the liturgy for Palm Sunday, is too long to comment on in detail, so we will only examine a portion of it here.

It may be of some value to examine the problems associated with the more moderate range of personalities involved. The usual villains (the Temple leaders, Judas, and the recruited crowd shouting, “Crucify him!”) are unambiguously wicked and display their sinfulness openly. But there are others involved whose struggles and neglectfulness are more subtle, yet no less real. It is in examining these figures that we can learn a great deal about ourselves, who, though we may not openly shout, “Crucify him,” are often not as unambiguously holy and heroic as Jesus’ persecutors are wicked and bold.

As we read the Passion we must understand that this is not merely an account of the behavior of people long gone, they are portraits of you and me; we do these things.

I. The Perception that is Partial – Near the beginning of today’s Passion account, the apostles, who are at the Last Supper with Jesus, are reminded of what the next days will hold. Jesus says,

This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed.” But after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.

Note that the apostles are not being told these things for the first time; Jesus has spoken them before on numerous occasions:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Matt 16:21).

When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief (Matt 17:22-23).

We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life” (Matt 20:18-19).

Thus we see that the Lord has consistently tried to teach and prepare them for the difficulties ahead. He has told them exactly what is going to happen and how it will end: not in death, but rising to new life. But even though He has told them over and over again, they still do not understand. Therefore He predicts that their faith in Him will be shaken.

Their perception is partial. They will see only the negative, forgetting that Jesus has promised to rise. Because they cannot see beyond the apparent defeat of the moment they will retreat into fear rather than boldly and confidently accompanying Him to His passion and glorification (for His passion is a lifting up; it is His glorification). Instead they will flee. He has shown the “what the end shall be,” but they can neither see nor accept it. Thus fear overwhelms them and they withdraw into a sinful fear, dissociating themselves from Jesus. Only a few (Mary, His Mother; John; Mary Magdalene; and a few other women) would see Him through to the end.

As for the rest, they see only what is gory and awful, missing what is glory and awesome. Their perception is quite partial. Paradoxically, their blindness comes from not hearing or listening to what Jesus has been telling them all along.

We, too, can easily suffer from a blindness caused by poor listening. The Lord has often told us that if we trust in Him, then our struggles will end in glory and new life. But, blind and forgetful, we give in to our fears and fail to walk the way of Christ’s passion boldly. We draw back and dissociate ourselves from Jesus, exhibiting some of the same tendencies we will observe in the people of that day.

Next, let’s examine some of the problems that emerge from this partial perception and forgetful fear.

II. The Problems Presented – There are at least five problems that emerge. They are unhealthy and sinful patterns that spring from the fear generated by not trusting Jesus’ vision. Please understand that the word “we” used here is shorthand and does not mean that every single person does this. Rather, it means that collectively we have these tendencies. There’s no need to take everything here personally.

1. They become drowsy – A common human technique for dealing with stress and the hardships of life is to become numb and drowsy; we can just drift off into a sort of moral slumber. Being vigilant against the threat posed to our souls by sin or the harm caused by injustice (whether to ourselves or to others) is just too stressful, so we just “tune out.” We stop noticing or really even caring about critically important matters. We anesthetize ourselves with things like alcohol, drugs, creature comforts, and meaningless distractions. Prayer and spirituality pose too many uncomfortable questions, so we just daydream about meaningless things like what a certain Hollywood star is doing or how the latest sporting event is going.

In the Passion accounts, the Lord asks Peter, James, and John to pray with Him. But they doze off. Perhaps it is the wine. Surely it is the flesh (for the Lord speaks of it). Unwilling or unable to deal with the stress of the situation, they get drowsy and doze off. Grave evil is at the very door, but they sleep. The Lord warns them to stay awake, lest they give way to temptation, but still they sleep. Someone they know and love is in grave danger, but it is too much for them to handle. They tune out, much as we do in the face of the overwhelming suffering of Christ visible in the poor and needy. We just stop noticing; it’s too painful, so we tune out.

The Lord had often warned them to be vigilant, sober, and alert (Mk 13:34, Matt 25:13, Mk 13:37; Matt 24:42; Luke 21:36, inter al). Other Scriptures would later pick up the theme (Romans 13:11; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 Thess 5:6, inter al). Yes, drowsiness is a serious spiritual problem.

Sadly, God described us well when He remarked to Isaiah, Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep (Is 56:10).

We do this not only out of laziness, but also out of fear. One strategy is to try to ignore it, to go numb, to tune out. But despite the sleepiness of the disciples, the wicked are still awake; the threat does not go away by a drowsy inattentiveness to it. Thus we ought to be confident and sober. Life’s challenges are nothing to fear. The Lord has told us that we have already won if we will just trust in Him. The disciples have forgotten Jesus’ promise to rise after three days; we often do the same. So they, and we, just give in to the stress and tune out.

2. They seek to destroy – When Peter finally awaken, he lashes out with a sword and wounds Malchus, the servant of the high priest. The Lord rebukes Peter and reminds him of the vision: Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me? (John 18:11) Jesus then heals Malchus, who tradition says later became a follower.

In our fear, we, too, can often lash out and even seek to destroy our opponents. But if we are already certain of our victory, as the Lord has promised, why do we fear? Why do we need to suppress our opponents and enemies ruthlessly? It is one thing to speak the truth in love, boldly and confidently. But it is quite another to lash out aggressively and seek to win a debate. In so doing, we may lose a soul. The Lord healed Malchus, seeing in Him a future disciple. The Lord saw what the end would be. Peter did not. In fear, he lashed out with an aggression that did not bespeak a confidence in final victory.

It is true that we are required to confront evil, resist injustice, and speak with clarity to a confused world. But above all, we are called to love those whom we address. There is little place for fear in our conversations with the world. The truth will out; it will prevail. We may not win every encounter, but we do not have to; all we must do is plant seeds. God will water them and others may well harvest them. In Christ, we have already won. This confidence should give us serenity.

Peter has forgotten Jesus’ promise to rise after three days; we often do the same. So Peter, and we, give in to fear and lash out, driven by a desire to win when in fact we have already won.

3. They deny – Confronted with the fearful prospect of being condemned along with Jesus, Peter denies being one of His followers or even knowing Him at all. He dissociates himself from Christ. And we, confronted with the possibility of far milder things such as ridicule, often deny a connection with the Lord or the Church.

Regarding one of the more controversial Scripture teachings (e.g., the command to tithe; the prohibition against divorce, fornication, and homosexual activity) some might ask, “You don’t really believe that, do you?” It’s very easy to give in to fear and to respond, “No,” or to qualify our belief. Why suffer ridicule, endure further questioning, or be drawn into an unpleasant debate? So we just dissociate from, compromise, or qualify our faith to avoid the stress. We even congratulate ourselves for being tolerant when we do it!

Jesus says, If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels (Mk 8:38). But too easily we are ashamed. And so, like Peter, we engage in some form of denial. Peter is afraid because he has forgotten to “see what the end shall be.” He has forgotten Jesus’ promise to rise after three days; we often do the same. We lack confidence and give in to fear; we deny in order to avoid suffering with Jesus.

4. They dodge – When Jesus is arrested, all the disciples except John “split.” They “get the heck out of Dodge.” They are nowhere to be found. After Jesus’ arrest, it is said that Peter (prior to his denials) followed the Lord at a distance (Mk 14:54). But as soon as trouble arose, he “scrammed.”

We, too, can run away. Sometimes it’s because of persecution by the world. But sometimes it’s our fear that following the Lord is too hard and involves sacrifices that we are just not willing to make. Maybe it will endanger our money (the Lord insists that we tithe and be generous to the poor). Maybe it will endanger our playboy lifestyle (the Lord insists on chastity and respect). Maybe we don’t want to stop doing something that we have no business doing, something that is unjust, excessive, or sinful. But rather than face our fears, whether they come from within or without, we just hightail it out.

The disciples have forgotten that Jesus has shown them “what the end shall be.” In three days, he will win the victory. But, this forgotten, their fears emerge and they run. We too, must see “what the end shall be” in order to confront and resist our many fears.

5. They deflect – In this case our example is Pontius Pilate, not one of the disciples. Pilate was summoned to faith just like anyone else. “Are you a king?” he asks Jesus. Jesus responds by putting Pilate on trial: “Are you saying this on your own or have others been telling you about me?” Pilate has a choice to make: accept that what Jesus is saying as true, or give in to fear and commit a terrible sin of injustice. The various accounts in Scripture all make it clear that Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. But because he feared the crowds he handed Jesus over.

Note that Pilate did this. The crowds tempted him through fear, but he did the condemning. Yet notice that he tries to deflect his choice. The text says, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility” (Mat 27:24). Well actually, Pilate, it is also your responsibility. You had a choice and you made it. Your own career and your own hide were more important to you than justice was. And though you wanted to do what was right and were sympathetic with Jesus, merely wanting to do what is right is not enough.

So, too, for us. We also often favor our career or our hide over doing what is right. And in so doing, we often blame others for what we have freely chosen. “I’m not responsible because my mother dropped me on my head when I was two.”

We are often willing to say, in effect,

“Look, Jesus, I love you. You get my Sundays, and my tithe, and I obey you (generally, anyway). But you have to understand that I have a career; I need to make money for my family. If I really stand up for what’s right, I might not make it in this world. You understand, don’t you? I know the company I work for is doing some things that are unjust. I know the world needs a clearer witness from me. I’ll do all that—after I retire. But for now, well, you know… Besides, it’s really my boss who’s to blame. It’s this old hell-bound, sin-soaked world that’s to blame, not me!”

We try to wash our hands of responsibility. We excuse our silence and inaction in the face of injustice and sin.

And all this is done out of fear. We forget “what the end shall be” and focus on the fearful present. We lack the vision that Jesus is trying to give us: that we will rise with Him. We stay blind to that and only see the threat of the here and now.

III. The Path that is Prescribed – By now you ought to know the path that is prescribed: see what the end shall be. In three days we rise! Why are we afraid? Jesus has already won the victory. It is true that we get there through the cross, but never forget what the end shall be! Today we read the Gospel of Friday, but wait till Sunday morning! I’ll rise!

We end where we began with this Gospel: This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed;’ but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.

Yes, after He has been raised He goes before us into Galilee. And for us, Galilee is Heaven. Whatever our sorrows, if we are faithful we will see Jesus in the Galilee of Heaven. Never forget this vision. After three days, we will rise with Him and be reunited with Him in the Galilee of Heaven.

So take courage; see what the end shall be! The end for those who are faithful is total victory. We don’t need to drowse, destroy, deny, dodge, or deflect; we’ve already won. All we need to do is to hold out.

I have it on the best of authority that Mother Mary was singing the following gospel song with St. John for a brief time while at the foot of the cross, as they looked past that Friday to the Sunday that was coming:

It’s all right, it’s all right.
My Jesus said he’ll fix it and it’s all right.

Sometimes I’m up sometimes I’m down.
But Jesus he’ll fix it and it’s all right.

Sometimes I’m almost on the ground.
My Jesus said he’ll fix it and it’s all right.

A Woman Wrapped in Silence – A Meditation for the Feast of the Annunciation

In preparation for the Feast of the Annunciation I picked up Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 3 (The Infancy Narratives), by Pope Emeritus Benedict. I was very moved by a brief reflection that he made on Mary as the Angel Gabriel left her. His remarks consider her faith in a very touching manner.

I must say that I have always been moved—and intrigued—by the faith of the Blessed Mother. She is “a woman wrapped in silence,” a phrase that forms the title of an excellent book by Fr. John Lynch. The pope’s words capture both her faith and her mystery:

I consider it important to focus also on the final sentence of Luke’s Annunciation narrative: “And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38). The great hour of Mary’s encounter with God’s messenger—in which her whole life is changed—comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with a task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing around her. She must continue along the path that leads to many dark moments–from Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy, to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of his mind (cf. Mark 3:21; John 10:20) right up to the night of the cross.

How often in these situations must Mary have returned inwardly to the hour when God’s angel had spoken to her, pondering afresh the greeting: “Rejoice, full of grace!” And the consoling words: “Do not be afraid!” The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God, a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch (Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives, Kindle edition (loc 488-501)).

I am moved by this image of Mary, there all alone, perhaps wondering how it would all unfold and whether what she just experienced had really happened. The angel departs and she is alone (and yet never alone).

The Scriptures present Mother Mary as a woman of great faith, but one who has to walk by faith and not by perfect sight, just as all of us do. She wonders at Gabriel’s greeting, is troubled, and does not understand how it will all work out (cf Luke 1:29).

Yet she presses on and we next see her having made haste to the hill country, rejoicing in ecstatic praise with her cousin: My spirit rejoices in God my savior! She still does not know how it will all work out, but in spite of that she is content to know the One who holds the future; it is enough for now.

Years later, when she finds Jesus teaching in the Temple after days of agonized searching for the “missing” boy, she does not fully understand His explanation (Luke 2:48-50), but ponders these things within her heart (Luke 2:51).

At the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus seems almost to rebuke His mother. Although the text omits many of the details, there must have been something in her look, something of the look that only a mother can give to a son. By now, Mary’s understanding of her son has surely deepened; she has known Him and pondered and reflected in her heart over Him for more than thirty years. She simply looks at Him, and He at her—a look that only the two would have known. Something passed between them, a look of understanding. Whatever it was remains wrapped in silence; it’s none of our business, something that only she and her Son could know. Whatever it was, it prompts her to turn and with confidence, knowing the situation will be well-handled, says to the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).

Of the three years to follow we know very little. We know that she is not far away. We see her in Mark 3:31 as she asks after Jesus, seemingly concerned that others are saying “He is beside himself!”

Now we find her gently and supportively present at the foot of the Cross. The sword that Simeon had prophesied (Lk 2:35) is thrust through her heart. More than thirty years earlier she could only wonder what Simeon meant when he said that her child was destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel and that a sword would pierce her heart (Luke 2:33). In the intervening years her faith had surely deepened; now, here she is at the foot of the Cross. It is her darkest hour, but surely all those years of pondering and reflecting on these things in her heart helps to sustain her.

Yes, Mother Mary is a woman wrapped in silence. We know so little, for she is reflective and quiet. She says little, silently standing by, silently supportive of Jesus in His public ministry. Now, again silently, she is at the foot of the Cross.

Yes, this is the Mary, this is the Mother that I know: a woman of faith but also a human being like you and me. As the Pope Benedict suggested, she is a woman who had to make a journey of faith without knowing how everything would work out, without the omniscience that some visionaries ascribe to her. She knew what the angel had said, but it seems clear that she did not know how it would all come to pass. She, like us, walked by faith and not by earthly sight.

Mary is the perfect disciple, the woman of faith, the one who presses on, not knowing all, but pondering and reflecting everything in her heart.

Four Proofs Advanced by Jesus to Show His Divinity

In the Gospel for Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent (John 5:31-47), Jesus sets forth a case for his divinity and presents evidence to his Jewish listeners of his divine status. He does not just come out of Galilee calling himself God. He demonstrates his power and calls other witnesses to testify.

Lets look at the case Jesus sets forth: 

I. The Testimony of John the BaptistBut there is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true. You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth. I do not accept human testimony, but I say this so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.

John was a revered prophet. Even his enemies admitted his holiness and that he feared no man and sought to flatter no one. John spoke truthfully of Jesus even when it cost him his followers and his own fame. Scripture says,  They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan–the one you testified about–look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him. John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven….The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom stands and listens for him and is overjoyed to hear the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must increase; I must decrease. The One who comes from above is above all. (Jn 3:26-32).

So John the Baptist, a revered and respected prophet testified to Jesus.

II. The Miracles He Wrought But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.

The scriptures record 37 miracles by Jesus (you can see the list here: 37 Miracles) which included the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes, walking on water, raising the dead, healing multitudes from countless illnesses, casting out fierce demons, and calming storms. Of course, the 37 recorded miracles (some which affected multitudes) were only some of the miracles he worked. As St. John notes There are many more things that Jesus did. If all of them were written down, I suppose that not even the world itself would have space for the books that would be written. (Jn 21:25)

So, the miracles testify to his divinity.

III. The Testimony of the Father Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf. But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.

The Father testified at Jesus’ Baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” But Jesus is more likely speaking here of the interior graces the Father is sending to them so that they may believe. Jesus says elsewhere: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me. (Jn 6:44-45). This indicates an inner inspiration and assistance the Father is providing for them (and us) to believe in Jesus. Even if it is not the grace of faith per se, it is an antecedent grace calling them to faith.

Therefore they are not without supernatural help, and are without excuse for their stubbornness to be docile to the promptings of the Father.

IV. The Scriptures – You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.

Jesus fulfilled hundreds of Scriptures that pointed to his coming, his miracles, his divinity (e.g. Psalm 110), his virgin birth, that he would be born in Bethlehem, be called a Nazorean, feed the multitudes, heal the blind, weak, lame and deaf, raise the dead, and bear our sins, and that by his wounds we would be healed. The list goes on and on. Anyone wishing to look at the evidence cannot honestly deny that he is the promised Messiah and Lord. 

John 5 of course is not the only place where Jesus teaches on his divine nature and status as Messiah. Here are but some passages 

Jesus teaches that He is superior to the angels.

  • The angels are His servants and minister to Him (Mt 4:11 Mk 1:13; Lk 4:13).
  • The angels are His army (Mt 26:53).
  • The angels will accompany Him at His second coming and do His will (Mt 16:27; 25:31; Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26).

Jesus appropriates divine actions unto Himself and thus sets forth an assimilation unto the Lord God.

  • He declares that it was He who sent the prophets and doctors of the Law (Mt 23:34; Lk 11:49).
  • He gives the promise of His assistance and grace (Lk 21:15).
  • He forgives sins, which power belongs to God alone (e.g., Mt 9:2).
  • He, by His own authority, completes and changes some precepts of the Law (Mt 5:21ff).
  • He declares Himself to be Lord of the Sabbath (Mt 12:8; Mk 2:28; Lk 6:5; Jn 5:17).
  • Like the Heavenly Father, He makes a covenant with His followers (Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20).

Jesus makes divine demands upon his followers.

  • He rebukes some for lack of faith in Him (Mt 8:10-12; 15:28).
  • He rewards faith in Him (Mt 8:13; 9:2; 22:29; 15:28; Mk 10:52; Lk 7:50; 17:19).
  • He demands faith in His own person (Jn 14:1; 5:24; 6:40,47; 8:51; 11:25ff).
  • He teaches that rejection of Him and His teachings will be the standard of final judgement (Lk 9:26; Mt 11:6).
  • Jesus demands supreme Love for Him, which surpasses all earthly loves (Mt 10:37,39; Lk 17:33).
  • He accepts religious veneration by allowing the falling to the feet, a veneration due to God alone (Mt 15:25; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 28:9,17).

Jesus teaches that His own death will be an adequate atonement for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole human race (Mt 20:28; 26:28).

Jesus appropriates to Himself the office of Judge of the World, which according to the Old Testament (e.g., Ps 49:1-6), God would exercise (e.g., Mt 16:27). His judgment extends to every idle word (Mt 12:36), and will be final and executed immediately (Mt 25:46).

In John’s Gospel, Jesus indicates that

  • He is eternal “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:58);
  • He has full knowledge of the Father (Jn 7:29; 8:55; 10:14ff);
  • He has equal power and efficacy with the Father (Jn 5:17);
  • He can forgive sins (Jn 8:11);
  • He is Judge of the World (Jn 5:22,27);
  • He is rightly to be adored (Jn 5:23);
  • He is the light of the world (Jn 8:12);
  • He is the way, the truth, and the light (Jn 14:6);
  • His disciples may and ought to pray to the Father in His name (Jn 14:13ff, 16:23ff);
  • His disciples may pray to Him (Jesus) (Jn 14:13ff, 16:23ff);
  • the solemn confession of the Apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” is acceptable and in fact an act of faith (Jn 20:28).

Jesus calls himself the Son of God.

  • Jesus first reveals Himself to be the Son of God in the temple, when He remarked to Mary and Joseph that He must be about His Father’s business (Lk 2:49).
  • Jesus claims to be both Messiah and Son of God in the presence of the Sanhedrin (Mk 14:62). The Sanhedrin perceive this as blasphemous.
  • Jesus tells a story of himself in the Parable of the vineyard and the evil tenants, thus confessing himself to be the only Son of God.
  • Jesus speaks of being one with the Father (“The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30,38). The Jews respond by accusing Him of blasphemy.

And many other passages could be listed.

Consider for a moment being a Jew of the First Century, deeply rooted in an understanding of monotheism (i.e. there is only One God) and hearing this sort of talk and these sorts of claims. Would you believe? Or scoff and even shout “blasphemy!”

In a certain sense it is a frightening question. But consider this too, Jesus did give evidence in abundance as to who he was and that his claims were true. In last Thursday’s Gospel Jesus makes it clear that there are four things that made the unbelief of some inexcusable. It is combination of external evidence, testimony and internal testimony.

This video is from John 8, not the passage for Thursday. But here he speaks in greater depth about their resistance to the Father’s testimony.

The Cross Wins, It Always Wins. A Meditation on the Gospel of the Fifth Sunday of Lent

The Gospel today is, to the world and to those who are perishing, utter madness, utter foolishness. For Christ, in effect, declares that dying (to this world) is the only way to true life. While the world’s so-called wisdom declares to us that the way to life is power, prestige, possessions and popularity, Jesus says, die to all that and you’ll find true life.

The word “paradox” refers to something that is contrary to the usual way of thinking. And the true gospel, (not the watered down, compromised one) is a real insult to the world.

Indeed, most of us struggle to understand and accept what the Lord is saying. But the Lord can give us a heart for what really matters, a heart for God, for love, and for the things waiting for us in heaven. But the way to this new life is through the Cross. Jesus had to go to the cross and die to give us this new life. And we too must go to his cross and die with him to this world’s agenda in order to rise to new life.

To those who would scoff at this way of the Cross there is only one thing to say, “The Cross wins, it Always wins.

Let’s examine the Lord’s Paradoxical Plan to save us and bring us to new life.

I. The Plan of Salvation that is Acclaimed: As the Gospel opens we find a rather strange incident. The text says,  Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

What is odd is the apparent “over-reaction” that Jesus has to the simple fact of some Greeks wishing to speak to him. From this seemingly simple and unremarkable (to us) fact, Jesus senses the stunning fact that his “hour” has now come. Yes, now the time for his glorification, that is, his suffering, death and resurrection, to take place. He goes on later to say, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Yes, all this from the simple fact that certain Greeks, i.e. certain Gentiles wish to speak to him.

Even more remarkable, is that nothing in the text indicates that Jesus in fact goes over to speak to them. Having given this stunning soliloquy and announced that the drama was to unfold, there is no evidence that he eagerly goes to the Greeks to evangelize them. We will see why this in a moment.

But first let us examine why this simple request throws the whole switch on for Holy Week to unfold. In effect, the arrival of the Gentiles fulfills a critical prophecy about the Messiah wherein He would gather the nations unto himself and make of fractured humanity one nation, one family. Consider two prophesies:

  1. I come to gather nation of every language; they shall come and see my glory. just as the Israelites bring their offering to the house of the Lord in clean vessels. Some of these I will take as priests and Levites says the Lord….All mankind shall come to worship before me says the Lord. (Is 66:18, 23)
  2. And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the Sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant– these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Is 56:6-7)

Thus we see that one of the principle missions of the Messiah would be to save, not only the Jewish People, but all people and to draw them into right worship, and unity in the one Lord. Jesus explicitly states elsewhere his intention to gather the Gentiles:

I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:14).

And so it is that this apparently simple request of the Greeks (Gentiles) to see Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, carries such significance for him (and us).

But why not run and greet them at once? Simply put, the call and salvation of the Gentiles must wait for the death and the resurrection of Jesus to be accomplished. It will be his atoning death that will reunite us with the Father and with one another. A simple sermon or slogan like “Can’t we all get along” isn’t going to accomplish the deeper unity necessary. Only the Blood of Jesus can bring true Shalom with the Father and wit one another, only the blood of Jesus can save us.

Consider this text from Ephesians:

But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both {Jews and Gentiles] one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Eph 2:13ff)

Thus, nothing but the Blood of Jesus can make us whole, can save us or make us one, either with the Father or each other. There is no true unity apart from Christ and he secures it by his blood and the power of his cross. Only by baptism into the paschal mystery do we become members of the Body of Christ and find true and lasting unity, salvation, and true peace.

So the door has opened from the Gentiles side, But Jesus knows the way through door goes by way the Cross. His apparent delay in rushing to greet the Gentiles makes sense in this light. Only after his resurrection he will say, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.... (Matt 28:19) for now there is the power through baptism to make all one in Christ. The Price of our salvation, our new life, our peace with each other, and the Father, is the death and Resurrection of Jesus. And thank the Lord, Jesus paid that price. An old songs says Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan! Oh, the grace that brought it down to man! Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span! At Calvary!

II. The Plan of Salvation Applied – Jesus goes on to say Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.

Now while it is true that Jesus pays the price for our peace and unity, with the Father and which each other, it is also true that he sets forth and prescribes a pattern for us and applies it. Note that Jesus says, Amen, Amen I say to YOU….and again he says, Whoever serves me must follow me.

Thus the pattern of his dying and rising to new life must also be applied to the pattern of our life. And if we seek unity and peace and to enjoy this new life with the Father, we must die to rise again. We must follow in the footsteps of Jesus. If we want peace we have to be willing to accept the pattern of dying fro it and rising to it.

How must we die for this? Well we have to die to:

  1. Our ego
  2. Our desire for revenge
  3. Our hurts from the past
  4. Our desire to control everything
  5. Our sinful and unbiblical agendas
  6. Our irrational fears rooted in ego and exaggerated notions
  7. Our hatreds
  8. Our unrealistic expectations
  9. Our stubbornness
  10. Our inflexibility
  11. Our impatience
  12. Our unreasonable demands
  13. Our greed
  14. Our worldliness

Yes, we have to be willing to experience some sacrifices for unity and to obtain new life. We have to let the Lord put a lot of sinful and unhealthy drives to death in us. New life does not just occur, Peace and unity do not just happen. We have to journey to them through Calvary. We too must allow the Lord to crucify our sinful desires and thereby rise to new life.

But remember, the Cross wins. It always wins.

III. The Plan of Salvation At day’s end. – Jesus speaks of a great promise of new life but presents it in a very paradoxical way. He says: Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

In other words, if we are not willing to follow the pattern he sets forth above of dying to ourselves and to this world, we cannot truly live. And if we go on clinging to our worldly notions of life and live only for ourselves, and for power, possessions, popularity, and prestige, we are already dead. For indeed, if we live only for the things of this world (and many do), ours is a cruel and laughable fate, for we die and lose all. Yes, total losers.

But if we allow the Lord to help us die to the this world’s agenda, to its pathetic charms, then, and only then do we pass increasingly to real life, to true unity with the Father and to deeper unity with one another in Christ.Only then does a newer, deeper life dawn upon us and do we see our lives dramatically transformed day to day.

Jesus had to die to give this to us. And in order to have it bestowed on us, and we must be configured to Christ’s death to this world in order to live in him and find this new life. We die to a sinful and overrated world, to live in a whole new way in a life open to something richer than we can ever imagine.

Note too, Jesus calls this new life, “eternal life.” But eternal life means far more than to live forever. Rather “eternal,” while not excluding the notion of endless length,  more deeply means “to become fully alive.”

And for those who know Christ, this process has already begun. At age 50, my bodily life has suffered setbacks. But spiritually I am more alive than I ever was at 20, and wait till I’m 80! Our bodies may be declining, but our souls are growing younger and more vibrant, more fully alive, if we love and trust Christ. Yes, I am more joyful, more serene, more confident, less sinful, less angry, less anxious, more compassionate, more patient, more alive!

But all of this comes from dying to this world, little by little and thus having more room for the life Christ offers.

What is the price of our Peace and our new life? Everything! For we shall only attain to it by dying to this world. And while our final physical death will seal the deal, there are all the ten thousand little deaths that usher in this new life even now. Our physical death is but the final component of a lifelong journey in Christ. For those who know Christ, the promise then will be full. For those who rejected him, the loss will be total.

An old song says, Now I’ve given Jesus everything, Now I gladly own Him as my King, Now my raptured soul can only sing Of Calvary!

Yes, the promise is real, but it is paradoxically obtained. The world calls all this foolishness. But you decide. Choose either the “wisdom of this world” or the folly of Christ. As for me, call me a fool, but make sure you add I was a fool for Christ. I do not mind. The cross wins, it always wins.

This song says:

Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
On Calvary.

Refrain:
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
To Calvary.

Now I’ve given Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Of Calvary!

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary!

 

Why Did Jesus Die in His Thirties?

Why did Christ die in his early thirties rather than as an older man? This would have permitted Him more time to teach and to set forth His Church. St. Thomas Aquinas answered the question in the following way:

Christ willed to suffer while yet young, for three reasons. First of all, to commend the more His love by giving up His life for us when He was in His most perfect state of life. Secondly, because it was not becoming for Him to show any decay of nature nor to be subject to disease …. Thirdly, that by dying and rising at an early age Christ might exhibit beforehand in His own person the future condition of those who rise again. Hence it is written (Ephesians 4:13), “Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ” (Summa Theologica III, 46, 9 ad 4).

Speculations such as these strike some as purely arbitrary. Others consider the reasoning to be a post hoc justification: Christ died at the age of 33, so let’s make something up to try to explain it.

St. Thomas’ reasoning, however, is not based on wild speculation. There are premises to his reasoning.

First, there is the premise that God does nothing arbitrarily and we do well to allow even seemingly minor details in Scripture (e.g., the time of day) to teach us.

Another premise is based on the nature of perfection. Perfection can be harmed by either excess or defect. Consider the case of age: A young person may lack physical and intellectual maturity (youth being a “defect” in age), but there comes a time when age becomes problematic in the other direction as time takes its toll on the body and the mind becomes less sharp (old age being an “excess” in age). Thus, there is a period of time when one’s age is in the “perfect” range: harmed neither by excess nor defect.

In St. Thomas’ time one’s thirties was considered to be that time of perfection. This is arguably still so, though we do seem to take a lot longer to reach intellectual and emotional maturity these days.

St. Thomas notes that because Jesus died while in the prime of His life, the sacrifice was greater. His apparent lack of any disease or physical imperfections also increased His sacrifice. This is a model for us. We are to give the best of what we have to God in sacrifice; not merely our cast-offs, or things of which we might say, “This will do.” The Lord once lamented, through Malachi,

If I am a Father, then where is my honor? When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts (Mal 1:8).

And thus what might seem to some to be an unremarkable detail (Jesus’ age) actually provides important teachings to the sensitive soul. Christ gave His all, His best—and He did so when He was in the prime of His life. We too are summoned to increasing perfection